Environmentally Acceptable Food Packaging Ordinance

expanded polystyrene

With the implementation of the organics program, most food service ware is either accepted for recycling or composting through Davis Waste Removal collection services.

In order to further reduce waste, the Davis City Council will be considering an ordinance to eliminate the use of polystyrene foam and other non-recyclable, non-compostable disposable food packaging at their regular meeting on April 18, 2017. 

Draft Environmentally Acceptable Food Packaging Ordinance

Final Draft Food Packaging Negative Declaration

Environmentally Acceptable Food Packaging Fact Sheet 

The City of Davis is holding two stakeholder workshops for businesses to discuss the proposed ordinance, ask questions, and provide input before this proposed ordinance goes to City Council.                               

  • March 29 at 9:00 a.m. in the City Hall Conference Room, 23 Russell Blvd., Davis
  • March 30 at 3:30 p.m. in the Hunt Boyer Building Conference Room, 604 2nd Street, Davis

Key points from the draft ordinance include the following:

  • Food providers in Davis cannot serve prepared food or drink in polystyrene foam or other non-recyclable, non-compostable disposable products.
  • Food providers in Davis must serve prepared food or drink with either reusable, recyclable or compostable products.
  • Promoters and participants of special events and customers renting City Facilities are prohibited from providing prepared food in any disposable food service ware that contains or utilizes polystyrene foam or other plastic foam.
  • This proposed ordinance would apply to any store, restaurant, delicatessen, catering vehicle, school, non-profit or any other organization, group or individual which regularly provides food for public consumption on or off its premises.
  • This proposed ordinance would include plates, cups, bowls, take-out food clamshells and other products used to serve food or beverages.

This ordinance would ensure that all food and beverages prepared in Davis would be served with reusable, recyclable or compostable products.


In order to reduce the amount of waste sent to the landfill and to reduce the amount of persistent litter while increasing progress toward our goal for zero waste, the City of Davis is proposing the adoption of a new ordinance that will prohibit food providers within the City of Davis from providing prepared food or drink in any non-recyclable, non-compostable disposable food service ware, including expanded polystyrene foam. 

Consistent with State waste reduction goals and the policies of other local jurisdictions in California, The City of Davis adopted a Zero Waste Resolution on December 6, 2011. As part of its zero waste goal, the City has been moving to divert as much waste as possible via recycling and composting.  The City recycling program collects a wide variety of materials for recycling and composting-- most waste produced in Davis can be diverted from the landfill by either municipal recycling or compost collection programs. One of the few remaining waste streams that have comparable and easily accessible recyclable and compostable alternatives is disposable serving ware. The draft ordinance proposed would eliminate all non-divertible disposable serving ware —including  expanded polystyrene. With this ordinance, all serving ware used in Davis will either be reusable, recyclable or compostable, making it easier for the City to achieve its waste reduction goals.

Polystyrene is a synthetic resin that is used primarily as lightweight rigid foams and films formed into many different products. Many food vendors use polystyrene foam single-use food service containers such as plates, cups, bowls and clamshells. This type of food ware is used by approximately 47 percent of Davis restaurants and food establishments that were surveyed in 2016.

Polystyrene foam, particularly polystyrene foam soiled from food and beverages, has a very low recycling value. A stable, economical and environmentally responsible market for recycling polystyrene foam does not currently exist in the region, therefore Davis does not accept polystyrene foam for recycling. The only recycling market opportunity for municipal collection that exists regionally is subsidized by the plastics industry; as the City is proposing an ordinance to ban the use of polystyrene foam, the industry will not offer this program to Davis.

In addition to being non-recyclable, Polystyrene has other negative environmental effects. Despite its lightweight characteristics, polystyrene foam impacts the solid waste stream and environment disproportionately due to the non-biodegradable attributes that makes them persist in the environment even after they have broken down. The foam litter gets into storm drains and waterways and pollutes the water, which can be harmful to wildlife. Animals mistakenly eat the plastic foam thinking it is food. This can cause an animal to choke or clog its digestive systems, preventing proper absorption of nutrients which can lead to death by starvation. Polystyrene foam can be blown out of landfills by the wind and can easily be blown from garbage sources into storm drains prior to collection, adding to the litter problem and potential water and wildlife impacts. Some of the most common found plastics on the beaches and in creeks are polystyrene foam food packaging. Polystyrene also poses human health risks. The Styrene chemical used in polystyrene is thought to be a chemical that may cause cancer and central nervous system problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the proposed ordinance require?

The proposed ordinance prohibits all food-serving businesses, non-profit groups, City contractors, users of City facilities and coordinators of City special events from serving food and beverages with polystyrene foam or other non-recyclable, non-compostable food packaging.


What is polystyrene foam?

Polystyrene foam (also known as expanded polystyrene, or EPS) is a thermoplastic, closed-cell, lightweight, rigid foam plastic. It is commonly used in food packaging to make cups, plates, clam-shells and other food service ware. Although this material is often called “Styrofoam” this is not technically correct. SytrofoamTM is a trademarked brand name belonging to Dow Chemical and refers to a completely different type of product.

What food packaging products/ serving ware can be used under this proposed ordinance? 

Any product that is either reusable, recyclable or compostable can be used.

What are reusable food packaging products/ serving ware? 

Reusable food packaging/ serving ware are products that will be used more than once in its same form by the customer, food vendor or other reuse program. Reusable food service ware includes: food or beverage containers, packages or trays, such as, but not limited to, soft drink bottles and milk containers that are designed to be returned to the distributor by the customer that is provided take-out containers. Reusable also includes durable containers, packages or trays used on-premises, returnable containers brought back to the food vendor and those intended to be taken home by the consumer for reuse. This includes all containers, bowls, plates, trays, cartons, cups, and other items that are designed for prolonged use, including but not limited to plastic, ceramic, glass, porcelain, and metal food service ware.

What are recyclable food packaging products/ serving ware? 

Recyclable food packaging/ serving ware are products that are accepted for recycling through Davis Waste Removal collection services. This includes aluminum foil, rigid plastics (non-foam and non-film plastics), food and beverage container glass, aluminum and steel cans, foil plates, and more. For details, see the recycling page.

What are compostable food packaging products/ serving ware? 

Compostable food packaging/ serving ware are products that are accepted for composting through Davis Waste Removal collection services. This includes paper plates, paper cups, paper cartons, wooden chopsticks, cardboard pizza boxes, biodegradable plastics and compostable plastics.  Compostable food packaging/ serving ware includes, but is not limited, to products that meet ASTM standards for compostability. More information about what is accepted for composting in Davis.

acceptable containers

What businesses are affected by this ordinance?

The ordinance would apply to entities that provide prepared food, including:

  • Restaurants: applies to serving ware for both to-go orders and left-over food from dine-in food orders
  • Schools, hospitals, cafeterias and non-profits that serve food that is prepared in the City
  • To-go coffee shops
  • Mini-marts that serve beverages
  • Fast food restaurants

What are the restrictions for City facilities?

Polystyrene foam may not be used in any City facility, including parks, greenbelts and in City buildings.

What are the restrictions for City contractors?

City contractors shall not use disposable food service ware that contains or utilizes polystyrene foam or other plastic foam in the performance of City of Davis contracts.

How will this affect my business?

Once the ordinance goes into effect, businesses will no longer serve food or beverages with polystyrene foam or other non-recyclable, non-compostable serving ware. They can still use any reusable, recyclable or compostable serving ware.

What about unprepared food packaging?

Unprepared foods packaged within the City of Davis is exempt from this ordinance. For example, raw uncooked meat, poultry, fish or eggs that are packaged with polystyrene foam would not be restricted under this ordinance. 

What about food packaged outside of Davis?

Any food packaged outside of the City of Davis is not affected by the ordinance; however, the City does encourage all food providers to use recyclable or compostable products.

How can I find food containers that comply with the ordinance?

Businesses can check with their suppliers to request products that are are either reusable, recyclable or compostable.

When will this ordinance go into effect?

If adopted by City Council as currently written, it will go into effect on July 1, 2017.

When will City Council be reviewing the ordinance?

The ordinance has been tentatively scheduled for City Council review on April 18, 2017. 

How will the ordinance be enforced?

Enforcement will be complaint based only, with fines issued for violations.

What other cities have enacted a similar ordinance?

There are many other cities that have enacted similar ordinances and can be found on this website: